Sports massage refers to ‘the mechanical manipulation of body tissues with rhythmical pressure and stroking for the purpose of promoting health and wellbeing’ (Nedelec et al., 2013). Massage can be applied in various different ways, such as effleurage, petrissage and tapotement, which all stimulate the tissues in different ways. Massage is an extremely popular method o both treatment and recovery, with 78% of professional football teams in France using it within their clubs to treat players.
During my time at university I’ve been taught various things about massage, what it does, why it’s effective and its benefits to the general and sporting population. We were taught that massage can help to promote general circulation within the muscle tissues, which is vital for general activity and even more so during sport. It does when long strokes are applied in the same direction as the venous return of the body, which is towards the heart, for example from the distal portion of the hamstring to the proximal portion near the glutes. After the stroke is applied it creates a vacuum behind which fills with fresh blood, perfect for the muscles, as it is full of oxygen. It is important to not stroke in the opposite direction as it can damage the non-return valves, which can cause back flow and damage to the vessel walls.
The use of massage to promote circulation post activity is further supported by the theory that massage will help to remove blood lactate. Blood lactate will accumulate within the blood during exercise, and therefore by increasing the circulation the drainage and filtering of this lactate away from muscles will help to prevent some of those painful cramps athletes usually get post exercise. It has been found that massage can help to promote circulation and blood flow by up to 50%!
Further research has looked at the effectiveness of massage post-exercise. It has been found to help reduce the onset of, and peak pain of DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness. It was found to help alleviate some of the pain caused by DOMS in elite sport, and when applied post training can even help to reduce its initial onset (Nedelec et al., 2013).
These long strokes can also assist with the drainage and flow of lymphatic fluid, which otherwise wouldn’t flow by itself as they’re not pumped by the circulatory system. Lymphatic fluid is often made up of various toxins, which are filtered out through the lymph nodes, by circulating this fluid it helps to remove toxins from the body!
Another proposed benefit of massage, which is up for discussion, is that massage can help to break up scar tissue and adhesions within the muscle. To break up scar tissue, deep transverse friction massage is applied which essentially helps to break up and realign tissue fibers, creating better range and reduce pain in the area. This is helpful when dealing with ligament and tendon problems, but can also be applied in the muscle. The adhesions that occur in the muscle are due to the sticky nature of scar tissue, as it cannot glide smoothly with other muscle fibers it becomes stuck, creating knots and adhesions in the tissue. Massage is said to be able to essentially pull these apart and realign the fibers individually, which will help increase muscle pliability and length, as well as reducing pain. The research in this area is slightly outdated however, and up for discussion as some practitioners say that it does none of these things.
With permission to post by George Barnes (BSc Hons) – Sports therapist